The merits of these men, who
would not regard them with wonder? They with one accord did not desert the post to which
had assigned them, but gladly offered up their
own lives for the common salvation of all Greeks, and preferred to die bravely rather than to
live shamefully. The consternation or the Persians also, no one could doubt that they felt it.
For what man among the barbarians could have conceived of
that which had taken place? Who could have expected that a band of only five hundred ever had
the daring to charge against the hundred myriads? Consequently what man of later times might
not emulate the valour of those warriors who, finding themselves in the grip of an overwhelming
situation, though their bodies were subdued, were not conquered in spirit? These men,
therefore, alone of all of whom history records, have in defeat been accorded a greater fame
than all others who have won the fairest victories. For judgement must be passed upon brave
men, not by the outcome of their actions, but by their purpose; in the one case Fortune is
mistress, in the other it is the purpose which wins approval.
What man would judge any to be braver than were those Spartans who, though not equal in
number to even the thousandth part of the enemy, dared to match their valour against the
unbelievable multitudes? Nor had they any hope of overcoming so many myriads, but they believed
that in bravery they would surpass all men of former times, and they decided that, although the
battle they had to fight was against the barbarians, yet the real contest and the award of
valour they were seeking was in competition with all who had ever won admiration for their
Indeed they alone of those of whom we have knowledge
from time immemorial chose rather to preserve the laws of their state than their own lives, not
feeling aggrieved that the greatest perils threatened them, but concluding that the greatest
boon for which those who practise valour should pray is the opportunity to play a part in
contests of this kind.
And one would be justified in believing
that it was these men who were more responsible for the common freedom of the Greeks than those
who were victorious at a later time in the battles against Xerxes; for when the deeds of these
men were called to mind, the Persians were dismayed whereas the Greeks were incited to perform
similar courageous exploits.
And, speaking in general terms, these men alone of the Greeks down to their time passed into
immortality because of their exceptional valour. Consequently not only the writers of history
but also many of our poets have celebrated their brave exploits; and one of them is Simonides,
the lyric poet, who composed the following encomium1
in their praise, worthy of their valour:“
Of those who perished at Thermopylae
All glorious is the fortune, fair the doom;
Their grave's an altar, ceaseless memory's theirs
Instead of lamentation, and their fate
Is chant of praise. Such winding-sheet as this
Nor mould nor all-consuming time shall waste.
This sepulchre of valiant men has taken
The fair renown of Hellas
for its inmate.
And witness is Leonidas, once king
Of Sparta, who hath left behind a crown
Of valour mighty and undying fame.
”Simonides fr. 4 （Bergk）